At the dawn of independence, India realized the responsibility that came with freedom. All eyes were set on the nation and its people as the partition brought with it a variety of problems, opportunities, dreams and expectations. It was a duty entrusted onto the shoulders of the leaders to materialize and accomplish the infinite dreams and aspirations of the citizens of this new country and to provide them with a healthy framework to develop, individually and as a country. When the British departed, they left an unfinished canvas for us to re-imagine and render in our own style. It was a time when architects and town planners steered the development of this country by planning and providing homes and workplaces for the displaced communities and migrants during the partition and a strong core of infrastructure that would prove to be the foundation for all future developments. With all focus on India, it was extremely essential to satisfy and surpass the expectations of the World. With this, construction began in full swing to re-establish India on the world map.
In terms of architecture, this was a point in Indian history when there was a great struggle between Revivalism and Modernism. Rehabilitation programmes for the people who had relocated to parts of Punjab, Delhi and West Bengal had begun. Extensive research into materials, techniques and modern design strategies that would facilitate quick and economical housing. At this juncture, two new State capitals for Orissa and Punjab were to be planned and constructed and buildings of political importance were to be designed for which great stalwarts in the field of architecture and urban planning like Le Corbusier, Koenigsberger, Edwin Lutyens, Achyut Kanvinde and Hebert Baker were appointed. This marked an extremely pivotal chapter in the history of Indian architecture, which stood testimony to the changing times that lay ahead of us. We dedicate this feature to these great architects who have shaped post-independence contemporary architecture in India and to those young architects and students who constantly derive inspiration from their works.
Prior to Independence, the last mammoth project taken up by the British was to shift the imperial capital from Calcutta to New Delhi. In 1912, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Hebert Baker were commissioned to design the Rashtrapati Bhavan (formerly known as the Viceroy’s House) and the Secretariat at New Delhi, also known as Lutyens’ Delhi, because of the role he played in the design and formation of this new capital. These buildings of great political importance were planned as the focal point of the city. The site selected for the Rashtrapati Bhavan is at the Raisina Hill, as it rendered a sense of importance to the structures. The Rashtrapati Bhavan, flanked by the Secretariat buildings on either side, was oriented to the south, with respect to the India Gate. Rajpath, the road connecting them formed a major axis which is bisected by Janpath, that connects the South End road to Connaught Place. The design included a total of 340 rooms spread over 2,00,000 square feet, making it the largest Presidential residence in the world. Elements like the resplendent colonnades, the dome or chhatri, the jaali detail and the long windows which overlook onto the expansive Mughal gardens add magnificence to this already stately work of architecture.
The early fifties were dominated by young and visionary architects like Achyut Kanvinde, Habib Rehman and Durga Bajpai. They were inspired by the works of Le Corbusier and were also influenced by the American Modern Movement. Thus, you see the influence of Bauhaus in Indian architecture for the second time in the New Secretariat designed by Habib Rehman and the ATIRA building designed by Kanvinde. The Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, designed by Durga Bajpai brought a sense of freshness which was quite contrary to the architecture prevalent during that period. During this time, Charles Correa designed the Gandhi Smarak Sanghralaya at Ahmedabad, weaving together the traditional aspects of Indian architecture with modern concepts of design.
The early fifties also witnessed the invitation that Jawaharlal Nehru sent to Le Corbusier to design a new state capital for Punjab, called, Chandigarh. With his visionary architectural ideologies, Le Corbusier played a key role in shaping the future of the country in terms of architecture. The enormous task of creating the master plan of Chandigarh was first commissioned to Albert Mayer and Mathew Novicki but this was eventually transferred to a new team of architects led by Le Corbusier. Largely, the master planning remained the same in the two versions done by the respective architects, but Le Corbusier’s plan adopted a grid iron network of roads rather than the curved roads as proposed by the former architects. The city was divided into various sectors which were bisected by a network of roads that organised in a diminishing hierarchy and labelled V1 to V8. The sectors created by the intersection of the road network were planned as an abstraction of the
human body, with the Capitol Complex as the Head, the commercial centre as the heart and the institutional and leisure activities as the arms.
Of the many structures designed by Le Corbusier for Chandigarh, the Capitol Complex in Sector 1 is one of his greatest contributions to the architectural fabric of the newly designed city. The complex comprises of the three masterpieces that Corbusier gave us, namely- The Secretariat, The High Court and The Legislative Assembly. Corbusier’s work involved the usage of unrendered concrete and well defined forms. The Secretariat building also showcases these features with the horizontal and vertical brise soleil, the parapets and the acroterium which stands out against the sky. The two large ramps in front of and behind the building serve all floors and are likewise in rough concrete.
Historically, Indian architecture has always depicted the amalgamation of traditional design strategies and foreign techniques. Influences of British, Dutch and Portuguese architecture can be observed through the different regions of India and time stands testimony to the advancements made in the field of architecture. With every architectural marvel that is weaved into the fabric of this country, it adds another shade of colour to the canvas of post-independence architecture in India. On that note, we wish you a very happy Independence Day and hope that this article featuring the celebrated architects of independent India has inspired you.